Objectives: To investigate whether spinal cord stimulation (SCS) has a negative effect on static balance and gait, which is implicated by the increased incidence of falls leading to frequently occurring lead migrations.
Materials and Methods: A controlled trial is performed with 11 subjects (four female, seven male) with a mean age of 46 years old. A baseline measurement consisting of static balance and gait tests was performed. Within two weeks after implantation of a spinal cord stimulator, subjects performed the same tests with both stimulation switched on and off. Static balance was assessed with eyes open and eyes closed on hard surface and foam surface. The velocity of the center of pressure and weight symmetry were the main outcome parameters. Kinematics and spatiotemporal outcome parameters were used to analyze gait. ANOVAs were used to compare between baseline, stimulation on, and stimulation off.
Results: Spinal cord stimulation resulted in significant pain relief as scored on a Visual Analog Scale (p < 0.001). Gait width decreased and this change (indicative of improvement in balance) was significant (p = 0.007). No other significant group differences were found between stimulation baseline and post-surgery measurements. SCS did not influence static balance or gait when group effects were analyzed. Four subjects showed significant differences in static balance between stimulation on and off.
Conclusions: The lack of group differences in normal gait and static balance cannot explain the increased incidence of falls. However, four subjects showed an effect of SCS on static balance. Further research to clarify why only a part of the subjects experienced balance problems is recommended and assessments of more demanding balance and gait tasks are desirable.